Panthers are the official state animal for Florida, and Florida is officially still worried about them.
After decades of hunting, the panther population was decimated and, in 1973, be-came one of the first animals to be added to the U.S. endangered species list. (1) Just over twenty years later, the population was so low that a first-of-its-kind action took place: the government released eight female cougars from a wild Texas population into Florida.” (2) Not entirely sure how the tactic would stand, it was truly a last-ditch effort to save the panther.
Today, the panther population has grown from around one dozen to roughly 130 wild panthers, making the extreme plan successful. Yet, the panther is still not “safe.” This year, a video surfaced and showed a panther walking in a manner that appears as if it’s intoxicated; although, the actual cause is unclear in the video. Since that video, several more videos have been captured—from various parts of the state. officials immediately began investigating.
At this time, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has confirmed neurological damage, via necropsy, that seems to be caused “by a mysterious neurological disorder that seems to hit kittens the hardest.”
Even a bobcat has been confirmed to be affected. (3, 4) The FWC has asked the public to report any similar panther sightings, and they’ve in-creased “monitoring efforts to locate impacted animals.”
They’ve created an online form for residents to report sightings and they’ve “deployed additional cameras to capture more videos of affected animals.”
Although “habitat loss and fragmentation” are still the largest threat to the panther population, this disorder adds a terrible blow. Panthers are so critically endangered that they’re “vulnerable to just about every major threat.”
Landowners who work with the Florida Panther Recovery Team, consisting of members from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the FWC, and other stakeholder groups, understand the impact of land development. They work together to develop and implement plans and methods to help the panther population recover.
One stakeholder group on the Recovery Team is the Defenders of Wildlife. They help landowners “protect large interconnected areas of habitat and expand acceptance for sharing landscape with panthers.”
Specifically, they “work to improve two federal programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”
One of those programs “compensates landowners for loss to a federally protected species.”
The other program, more pro-active, “provides funding to landowners who maintain their land in ways that benefit panthers (e.g. providing good habitat and wild prey).”
FWC officials are expected to update the public soon, perhaps by the time of this printing, on the research progress of this mysterious disorder. Being that the disor
der is not limited to Panthers, as a Bobcat was affected, alarm and concern is high. To report dead or injured panthers and wildlife, call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone.